This morning, I wanted my son to put some toys away, so I told him:

These toys need to go away.

Then, I started thinking about whether this sentence is active or passive voice. The following sentences are either clearly active or clearly passive:

  1. I need to go to the store. (active)

  2. These toys need to go be put away. (passive)

  3. These toys need to be put away. (passive)

  4. You need to put these toys away. (active)

So, where does that leave my original sentence? Even though it looks like sentence #1, the true actor (my son) for the action (putting away the toys) isn't really present.

I did some research into the mediopassive voice, but that doesn't seem to apply here either.

  • "These toys need to go away" is still grammatically active. There's the semantic implication that someone else will do it, but grammatically it's just as active as "I need to go to the store", because there's no "to be + past-participle", which is the sine qua non of the passive voice.
    – stangdon
    Apr 6, 2018 at 15:26
  • Also, "These toys need to be put away" has a mix of active and passive clauses. "These toys need" is active. "To be put away" is is passive. And #2, "These toys need to go be put away" sounds kind of weird and ungrammatical to this native US English speaker.
    – stangdon
    Apr 6, 2018 at 15:27
  • 1
    It doesn't really make sense to talk about sentences as active or passive since they can contain multiple clauses, each of which can be active or passive themselves. For more information about the English passive, see: languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2922
    – user230
    Apr 6, 2018 at 15:36
  • I guess technically it's OK, because you can put a verb phrase there, like "I need to go smoke a cigarette", where smoke is the bare infinitive...but I'm not used to seeing a passive phrase there.
    – stangdon
    Apr 6, 2018 at 15:36
  • @stangdon Yeah, I agree about #2. I’m a Native American English speaker as well, and while I can see myself saying #2, that doesn’t make it grammatical. I certainly would never write it.
    – godel9
    Apr 6, 2018 at 15:38

1 Answer 1


These toys need to be put away.

The main verb here is grammatically active, and you have discovered that the verbs like need can be used in a way that functions like the passive.

Note that the non-finite clause "to be put away" is passive.

So we have at least four alternatives, all using the active voice for the main verb:

You need to put these toys away.

I need you to put these toys away.

These toys need you to put them away.

These toys need to be put away (by you).

We wouldn't use a passive voice here:

*You are needed to put the toys away. (Meaning changes, it means that nobody else is able to do it)

But you could say

You are required to put these toys away.

Part of the reason for this being odd is that when we say "I need you to put the toys away" we aren't using "need" literally. It is a sort of imperative. We mean "Put the toys away!", but using indirect requests is more persuasive.

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